Guest post: Agile @ Home – Agile finance!

Introduction: This guest post is from Jonathan Coleman. I first working with Jonathan over a decade ago on the Land Information NZ project. He was a pleasure to work with then, and it’s been great getting to know him again after all this time. Jon recently send this post for review … and I enjoyed it so much I asked if I could feature his work here.

Ever been in a situation where you’re trundling along OK, but not really getting ahead? Ever been feeling like you don’t get what you really want? Let me begin by telling a story. A story many of you may be familiar with. It’s got little to do with software, with builds, with business value. However it does have a lot to do with motivation, inspiration and gratefulness!

In our household – there’s 2 adults, and 3 kids. We live off one income, and have done for the last 8 & ½ years. We’ve tried all sorts of things to keep our day-to-day budget under control – everything from pencil & paper adding up, to complicated spreadsheets that only a 3rd generation statistician can understand, to nothing at all (short lived), to back to paper & pencil, to little envelopes, to credit cards, to back to little envelopes, to waving our hands in the air, etc etc.

Needless to say – we get the job done with the weekly budgeting, the bills get paid, family gets fed most times, shoes, clothing etc. But what, I hear you cry, about all the ‘extras’ – the nice to haves, the mini projects, the anchovy stuffed olives that make life worth living?

Well we were fed up to the eye teeth and grumbling to each other that neither of us was getting what we wanted – although we deep down knew we had what we needed. I really wanted a Motorbike, and my wife was insistent that a dishwasher was more important!

The battle lines were drawn – and neither side was advancing or relenting. Stalemate.

“What the?” I thought one evening after doing the budget together – I know how we could do this! What is it that helps us stay inspired at work? What is it that allows us to see progress? What allows us to deliver on our promises in a short timeframe? And in a fit of card cutting & column drawing – our Agile finance board system was born!

We taped up the back of the office door into 4 columns: Must haves, Should haves, Nice to Haves and “Split to Regular Payments” This is a slight deviation from MoSCoW method – usually there’s a “Won’t haves”. For us this is the wastepaper basket!

Next to this – we had a ‘Kanban wall’ where we had two columns: ‘in progress’ and ‘Done’.
 We used the 3 principles of Kanban: Make work Visible, Limit work in progress, Help work to flow. We then spent the next 30 minutes in a frenzy of writing up all our wishes & desires up on cards. Everything from cosmetic dentristy, extra text books, motorbike restoration project, fits of clothes shopping, to a new dishwasher went up onto the wall. Next – we carved up this list – big & visual style – into Must Haves, Should Haves, Could Haves, “Split to Regular Bills” – along with a bottle of Red Wine to help the discussion flow!

We prioiritised the must haves first, into highest to lowest (which would we do first, next next next). Then we plonked the rest of the cards into either –should haves, nice to have, and wont have. At this point we stopped. We had a door peppered with little red cards, we were slightly tipsy and it was getting late. We still didn’t know quite how it would work, but we left it at that point.

Delivering on the promise!
Next week, same time – it was budgeting time – so we got that out of the way quick – made sure there was cash in the right accounts, bills were getting paid again – staying one step ahead of the shoe-shine as the song goes. And then we saw we had the top priority “Must Have” card. It just happened to be a new dishwasher to replace the one that had died.

We put in place a savings plan for this – and stuck the dishwasher on the “KanBan” wall. The ground rules? Only one project at a time – and it had to be the highest priority thing that we’d both agreed on.  Having done this – we then threw our available spare money at this project – measuring velocity using an old fashioned colour in thermometer graph (remember those??) on the fridge. When some bonus money came in – we utilised that towards our highest priority project, and we had astonished ourselves – before long a new dishwasher turned up at our door, was installed, and we weren’t fighting our way through stacks of plates anymore!! 

We then had a celebration ceremony – moving the “dishwasher” card to DONE, and floating the next one to the top of the stack.

Months Later – we look at our “Done” pile – and the list of done items is slowly growing. We have something to be grateful for. Our needs and wants are getting met – albeit slowly – but with fun & gratefulness mixed in. We’re inspired to tackle larger projects! We’re enthusiastic about approaching the prioritisation of our next wants & needs

What’s in it for me??
I am ecstatic to report I got that motorbike, with the appropriate training, and gear, and new parts, and plenty of learning out in the shed – and now I am happily riding this beast into work. Hugely satisfying! Enjoy!

About the Author: Jonathan Coleman is an Agile enthusiast at Suncorp. Jonathan’s journey has included many & varied roles, from large scale systems integration, to small in-house development projects, to BAU maintenance, to rolling out massive systems consolidation projects. Jonathan has worked as a consultant, for himself, and as a permanent staff member for large corporate.

Jonathan began to see the light in 2006 – when Agile & Scrum were introduced to him. He took some of these concepts into managing a small pseudo-IT team within the business, and really got it humming. The next steps came in managing delivery on large projects, working closely with coaches such as Craig Smith (Suncorp), Kane Mar & James Brett (Thoughtworks).

Jonathan is also an active & dedicated father, volunteers in coaching marriage & finance workshops, and runs a blog which addresses the deeper issues in life, love & child raising!


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